We've been wasting each other's time with this asinine bullshit for a quarter fucking century. Anyway, Bike Snob got the discussion started with his article, then PinkBike had to stick their nose into it, and since Prolly can't be left out of any asinine, bike-related discussion, he recently posted his $0.02. Again, before we go any further, let me reiterate what all these fine writers have already said about each other: these are well-written, often funny, thoughtful pieces and all are worth your time if you haven't read them already. I really do respect these guys, but I think they all missed something.
Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let's move on to establishing my credibility: this is the internet and I have a blog, so I'm an expert. Ha! That's a joke! Except it's not really funny. I started riding a real mountain bike in '97 or '98. I started rigid, then bought a bike with a suspension fork, then eventually rode a lot of full sus bikes. Along the way, I've ridden a shit ton of trials on a variety of rigid bikes, road bikes, a little time on a cyclocross bike but never actually riding cross, and I now spend most of my time riding either a Surly Straggler with the stock 41c Knards or my El Mariachi 29er with a Lefty fork on it. I ride the Straggler as intended - lots of gravel and pavement with a healthy amount of midwest singletrack as well. I ride the El Mar on what passes for mountain bike trails in southern MN. My point is, I've ridden all sorts of bikes on all sorts of terrain for quite a while.
The problem with this discussion, and the big something that all the other bloggers missed, is that it's bickering about opinions. We may as well sit around and yell at each other about which is the best color (btw, it's OD green). When this little essay is complete, the bottom line will be: ride what you like for the terrain you ride most often.
That said, let's see if we can actually weed out some factual kernels from all the bullshit chaff:
All else being equal (same components, same rider, same trail, etc), the following are all true:
- A rigid bike will be lighter.
- A rigid bike will require less maintenance OR,
- A rigid bike will be quieter.
- Over the same rough terrain, a sus bike will be faster.
- Rigid bikes will make you a better bike handler.
- Rigid bikes are cheaper.
I can already hear you armchair pundits out there sputter, "BUBUBUBUT WAIT! I have all these friends on full sus bikes and I ride rigid and I kick their asses!" Reread the caveat above. If all else is equal, the statements above are fact. Let's talk about them.
1. Even the simplest suspension requires stronger, more intricate frame components than a rigid bike. Even a soft tail without any pivots requires a spring of some kind, most likely a shock with an actual damper, and either special materials or processes to join the parts. A rigid bike is just tubing, most likely welded together. There is literally nothing you can do to make that lighter. Jeebus knows bike companies keep trying. Fact: all else being equal, a rigid bike is lighter.
2. Less maintenance/noise. Most suspension bikes have at least one, and as many as six pivots (special prize to the reader who can name the current bike with the most pivots). At each pivot, there will be two bushings or bearings (let's not talk about Yeti's weird slider thingies right now), all of which are press fit into precision-machined areas of the frame or linkage. While bike companies are pretty good, they aren't aerospace, so tolerances can and do vary, which means lots of microscopic cracks for dirt and moisture to infiltrate. Squish dirt between two hard pieces of metal, you get a creak. If you want your full sus bike to be quiet, you'll be pulling and replacing bearings at least annually. Realistically, you'll learn to live with creaks, because replacing bearings is time consuming and if you don't know what you're doing, you risk damaging your frame. So, your full sus bike is going to creak. Forks don't make as much noise, but seeing as how a rigid fork requires zero maintenance, it's still a fact that a sus fork will take more.
4. Sus bikes are faster. I'm sure this is the one that caused all you mustachioed, flat-brimmed, dude bros to spit take your DIPAs and espressos. While no longer as common a misconception, there are still too many people who think suspension is for comfort. It's not and never has been, except for the suspension seatpost on your mom's Trek 7100. Suspension is there to maintain traction, i.e. it exists to keep your tires in contact with the ground as much as possible. Since the only force propelling you forward on flat ground or while going up hills is the rear wheel, the more that rear wheel maintains traction, the faster you'll be. Going downhill, more traction gives you greater control, which makes you faster. Finally, suspension is forgiving, which leads into...
5. Rigid makes you a better bike handler. Compared to your arms, legs, back, and neck, your rigid bike is relatively immovable. You hit a six-inch rock, your handlebars move six inches. You absorb that with your body. Repeat that hundreds or thousands of times over the course of a ride, and it wears you the fuck out. Most people don't like to be beaten like that, so if you ride rigid, you learn to pick your way around rocks. Do that enough, and without any thought at all, you'll find yourself picking the smoothest lines. Know what picking smooth lines is called? Good bike handling. If you're lucky enough to own both rigid and full sus, do yourself a favor and ride your favorite trail a half dozen times on your rigid bike and then switch to sus. You'll feel like goddamned Superman. And in support of my statement that full sus is forgiving, you'll find yourself going too fast at times, and you'll miss the line you know to be smoothest, and it won't matter when you hit that baby head because the suspension just takes care of it for you.
6. Rigid is cheaper. This one is pretty simple. A rigid frame and fork are pretty simple. Simple is cheap. Again, all things being equal, no matter how simple the suspension, it will be more expensive than a pile of tubes that are welded together.
So that's it. Everything else is opinion, although I will say I welcome well-reasoned arguments from anybody. Does anybody still read this piece of shit? That's what I thought and I don't hardly blame you. So, you do you, and if you're lucky enough that you can afford more than one bike, make one rigid. It'll make you a better rider.